The president got through the last six months and won reelection without a news conference. So Wednesday’s outing may be the only one for quite sometime. Frankly, so long as the media act like lap dogs, the American people are not missing much.
This was emblematic of the lack of pressing inquiry and follow-up. Do the people deserve further explanation about Gen. David Petraeus’s resignation? Go talk to the FBI, President Obama said. (By the way isn’t a special prosecutor needed to see if the FBI and attorney general acted properly? How can they investigate themselves?)
How about asking the president why an investigation begun months ago lead to Petraeus’s resignation after the election? If there was no security leak, why did Petraeus resign at the urging of the director of national intelligence? When NBC’s Chuck Todd raised the topic again, Obama rebuffed him, saying it was all under FBI investigation. Apparently everything uncomfortable for Obama is under some investigation and therefore off topic (e.g. Benghazi, Petraeus, national security leaking).
Obama likewise escaped scrutiny on Benghazi by going into his indignant routine.Asked about a potential Watergate-style investigation of Benghazi, Obama huffed that Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) should stop picking on U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice (she wasn’t mentioned in the question, and as a possible secretary of State she shouldn’t be treated like a frail flower wilting at the first tough question thrown her way) and should “instead come after” him. (In a tweet afterwards, Graham wrote that the president shouldn’t “think for one minute” he wasn’t ultimately responsible for the fiasco.) Would Obama testify under oath, then? And when Ed Henry asked about the reaction of the families who wanted to know what occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, Obama again evaded with generalities amounting to they will know when we let them know what happened.
On Syria he was asked if the United States would consider arming the rebels. With a straight face he boasted that he had been early (not that early) to call for Bashar al-Assad to go (and then do nothing). He said, ignoring that we have done precisely this, that the United States needs to be careful about putting arms into the hands “of folks who would do Americans harm or Israelis harm.”
The lack of focus and intensity in questioning (Did you mislead Elie Wiesel when you said you would do “everything” to stop the carnage in Syria? Do you regret not telling the American people earlier that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist operation? Have you failed to put al-Qaeda on its heels?) shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. The press is uninterested in putting pressure on him, and the president isn’t going to be candid. Hence, the absence of any meaningful scrutiny.
Finally, the president casually stated that Iran should be allowed a peaceful nuclear program. Why? Has not their past behavior made this impossible to accede to? No one bothered to ask him.
The real news in the press conference is that the president is to the right of some Republicans who want to cave on tax rates in a grand bargain. He again avoided insisting on rate hikes for the rich, saying he wouldn’t rule out loophole-closing instead of rate hikes but doubted if there was a trillion dollars in savings to be gotten from base broadening. (The good news is that many tax studies and bipartisan commissions, including Simpson-Bowles, say there is.)
Like an athlete who has failed to train and keep his muscles in shape, the White House press corps seems to have gone flabby and forgotten how to ask tough questions and frame meaningful follow-up queries. Or maybe they just don’t care to. Either way, they are no longer, it seems, capable of acting as fact-finders on behalf of the public. It will be up to whistleblowers, congressional oversight committees and conservative media to do that, I suppose. Well, until there is a Republican in the White House.